| Head's Blog

Character education can be described as an approach to developing a set of values, attitudes, skills and behaviours that are thought to support young person’s development and contribute to their success in school and in adult life. These qualities include respect, leadership, motivation, resilience, self-control, self-confidence, social and emotional skills, and communication skills. Perhaps the most comprehensive framework for understanding character education is the one developed by The Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues at the University of Birmingham (2017). The Jubilee Centre believes now is the time to broadcast a call for character education to be championed in all schools. This is in response to former Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield’s challenge that as a nation we need to build back better for children in the wake of the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. It also seeks to change the current dominant deficit narrative around the return to schools and offer a reflection on what this ‘return’ could mean from the perspective of character education.

The current language used has primarily focussed on the cognitive skills required by pupils and the perceived academic learning deficit in English and Maths. Indeed, the media seems determined to tell our children how much they have lost during the pandemic but this generation have shown extraordinary character and resolve and should be applauded. They have been presented with challenges that far exceed what would have been expected of us when we were their age. We are told this generation will be adversely affected but I believe that they will surprise us all, providing we all play our part – building their self-esteem which many in the media want to tear down. The greatest danger to them is that they are allowed to believe what they are told.

We know that at SHS our online delivery has been very focused and I am extremely proud of our pupils and what they have achieved. They have learnt to be self-motivated, independent and acquired new skills. I think that actually this generation, rather than being those who are losing out, are the ones who will be the entrepreneurs, the innovators in society.

Children need to see and hear us adults talking positively about navigating the challenges and not being unduly concerned about perceived gains that they need to make. We shouldn’t be putting a ceiling on what they can achieve nor judge their potential progress against the metrics of our generation. I think the best thing we can do is to help them develop that attitude that will allow them to see opportunities when they are presented with barriers – and to use the skills and resourcefulness with positive intent. I have really high hopes for this generation and I am excited to be supporting and working with them.

Good education cannot exist without good character education. This is the most effective way to support a pupil to flourish by developing their academic ability, their understanding of their own moral motivations and their sense of wellbeing in equal parts. This has been known to many teachers for a long time, with more coming to understand the importance of character as best practice each day.

How do we teach ‘character’? I would argue that this is not new for schools and something that prep schools such as SHS do particularly well. The pupils are continually assessing and absorbing our values, and the closer our relationship and the more connected our children feel, the more likely they are to take on those values. But I would argue that we need to go further and consciously teach our values to our pupils by talking about them and making them part of our school life.

What values matter to you? Respect, integrity, kindness, warmth, self-control, compassion, humility, courage, empathy? These support a strong moral code and good decision-making. We need to be crystal clear on what we believe, which includes making a stand for what is right and speaking out when our values are not upheld – every day. Let’s not leave it to chance but find ways to notice, talk about and live these values in our families and in everything we do.

Mark Beach